Mighty Ninety demonstrates weapon system reliability

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jason Wiese
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
The 90th Missile Wing performed a simulated Minuteman III launch Feb. 9.

Air Force Global Strike Command conducts Simulated Electronic Launch-Minuteman tests twice annually to evaluate the readiness of Minuteman III ICBM forces. The command's mission is to provide a safe, secure, effective and ready nuclear deterrent force for the President of the United States and combatant commanders.

"Exercises, weapons tests and operations are an important part of validating that our deterrence forces are capable 24/7," said Adm. Cecil D. Haney, U.S. Strategic Command commander. "Strategic weapons tests demonstrate the readiness of our nation's nuclear triad and serve to assure our allies and deter our potential adversaries."

"We're a 24/7 force, and we're just making sure we're ready to go," said 1st Lt. Pamela Blanco-Coca, 319th Missile Squadron missile combat crew commander and one of the two missile crews conducting the operation portion of the SELM. "People think launching is as simple as pressing a red button, but it's much more complicated."

SELM tests the weapon system and communications from launch control centers, where missileers monitor and control the system, to and from launch facilities. The launch facilities house the actual ICBMs.

SELM tests ICBMs without an actual launch, said Maj. James Boehm, 319th Missile Squadron assistant director of operations and the SELM test support manager. It provides the most complete test of the deployed ICBM force, from crew commit actions through issuance of the first stage signal.

Maintenance Airmen have a key part in conducting the SELM tests.

"When we take those sorties down, they're covered by the other legs of our nuclear triad or other ICBMs, depending on their targets," said Capt. Michael Bergeron, 790th Maintenance Squadron maintenance operations officer and SELM maintenance officer-in-charge.

The SELM demonstrates the full capability of the 90th MW and allows the Airmen to showcase their proficient skills in ICBM operations.

"It confirms for our allies that we've got their back and also shows our adversaries that we are ready to strike back," Bergeron said. "That's the biggest thing that SELM does. It's the end-to-end verification of the ICBM launch process."

For the SELM, maintenance Airmen configure the missiles selected for testing to allow missileers to run through the process of launching the missiles as they would in a real-world scenario, Bergeron said.

"In normal configuration, we turn keys, and that missile [launches]" he said. "With a SELM posturing, we take it out of its normal configuration and make it safe to test."

The maintainers install a mechanical barrier between the re-entry system, also known as a warhead, and the missile guidance set of each missile. SELM-specific cabling is installed to allow the test to be conducted, but prevent an unintentional launch, he said.

"Our crews worked hard to posture [the sites], and showed their unit pride throughout the exercise," he said. "There's not many times in an ICBM maintainer's career that you get to validate the system, and this is a validation of the system. This is kind of their bread and butter."

The test required the effort of  more than 200 wing personnel from the 90th Maintenance Group, 90th Security Forces Group and 90th Operations Group, plus other Air Force units including the 576th Flight Test Squadron, Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center,  625th Strategic Operations Squadron and 85th Engineering Installation Squadron, Boehm said.

The MXG, SFG and OG teams spent almost two weeks in the field battling Wyoming winter weather to prepare the sites for the test.

Whereas SELMs test ICBMs in their deployed locations -- the operational bases -- without actually launching missiles, operational test launches, or Glory Trips, feature an actual launch of a missile conducted at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, using test launch facilities and launch control centers.

Both SELMs and OTLs are overseen by the 576th FLTS and are part of the ICBM Force Development Evaluation program. The FDE program verifies the operational effectiveness and reliability of the weapon system.

The triad, the U.S. strategic nuclear forces of ballistic missile submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles, bombers and the tankers that refuel them, along with intelligence, sensing capabilities, national nuclear command, control and communications, altogether comprise the primary deterrent of nuclear attacks against the U.S., its allies, and partners.

Air Force Global Strike Command supports USSTRATCOM's strategic deterrence missions by operating and maintaining the ICBM and strategic bomber legs of the triad.

One of nine DoD unified combatant commands, USSTRATCOM has global strategic missions, assigned through the Unified Command Plan, which include strategic deterrence; space operations; cyberspace operations; joint electronic warfare; global strike; missile defense; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; combating weapons of mass destruction; and analysis and targeting.